5. The Day of Contrasts: DJ Oakenfold to starving children

Beijing is a very large city with maximum contrasts. During the following 24 hours we experienced and observed:
  • Mind-Blowing culinary ecstasy → Poverty stricken people begging for food.
  • Ancient family philosophy → Homeless children latching onto your feet.
  • Techno realm of international DJ Oakenfold → The serenity of Calligraphy.
  • New friends and unforgettable memory → Cultural misunderstanding and butchered hair.

Living standards

A very noticeable change in China compared to recent years, were the number of homeless people we encountered during our first visit. We saw crowds of poverty stricken people, many of them children. In more recent trips, however, we have observed that the number of homeless people have notably decreased. At least as far as we can tell, and of course the standard in many cities and villages is very high today.
On this particular day, a small boy ran up to us and threw himself on the ground. He was skinny, dirty, and begged us for money. He threw himself onto Vedran’s feet and latched around his legs. He would not let go for dear life and kept muttering words of plea (we assume). It was heartbreaking! We wanted to help the boy, but he was drawing so much attention to himself that other people started noticing the spectacle. A few shady looking men began approaching us, which made us feel that it would be safer to walk away. Unfortunately, there was not much else we could do in that moment. Some may think that the boy’s display was a set-up to trap tourists. Whatever the case may be, it is agonising to see children suffer, and we wish we could say that this was the last time...

Cultural misunderstandings & New styles

This was day five of our Around the world in 50 days trip. Vedran awoke feeling a bit sick, we assume from the intense heat the previous day on the Great Wall. So we decided to take a slow, relaxing morning, without too many activities. We visited a local mall, tried some local cuisine, and Dilek got a haircut. Today was also the day that we learned that it is customary for Chinese hairdressers to continue cutting until the customer smiles. Otherwise the hairdresser assumes that the customer is not yet satisfied, and will continue shortening the hair. Consequently, Dilek ended up with a boyish hairstyle. Luckily she was not too fussy about hair back then. A fact that has changed in recent years, much to Vedran’s dismay.

The World became our Doorway

the scroll in Stockholm

We walked through some fantastic districts in the outskirts of Beijing. We purchased hand fans with beautiful hand painted pictures and Chinese calligraphy. We entered a calligraphy studio and watched a man create beautiful calligraphy scrolls. The man did not speak English and was therefore unable to explain the writing. We purchased two of them anyway. One was given as a house gift to Vedran’s cousin in Australia, and the other hangs in our bedroom in Stockholm to this day.
Later we asked a friend to translate the meaning of our scroll. He laughed politely and explained that the scrolls are not supposed to be separated, but rather displayed together around a doorway to give good luck. Our friend could not fully translate the meaning since the second scroll was missing. But in our minds, we had just received excellent news. We had hung one scroll in Stockholm and the other one on in Australia, on the other side of the Earth. That would be our doorway!

Beijing Duck - Out of this world!!!

In the evening we had plans to meet Annie, the American tourist from yesterday. We went to the night market which is very lively, spirited and a perfect place to purchase souvenirs. Annie introduced us to her friends, a brother and sister of American-Chinese descent who had just relocated to Beijing after growing up in USA. Jason was an entrepreneur within the IT-field (like us), and Jessica had just started working in a high profile consulting firm. They brought us to an amazing restaurant famous for their version of Beijing duck. They told us that tourists never find this place as it is not in any guidebooks. We regret so much that we never made a note of the name.
It was the most delicious meal you could imagine, or rather you cannot imagine. Words cannot describe the flavours, the aroma, the texture! The restaurant seemed simple at first glance. The setting was not what you would call “luxurious”, nothing like a Michelin star or white list place, nor was the presentation. But, the food!!!! Stupendous! The chef was without a doubt a genius, who deserved the Nobel Prize in science, because there is no way these tastes came from this world. The final check was 900 RMB, which is more than reasonable considering we were five people, but an average restaurant dinner usually cost us around 10-30 RMB per person. Totally worth it!

With Justin, Jessica, and Annie

Wonders of the world cannot be found on any pub-street

After dinner, we grabbed a taxi to Beijing’s famous pub-street, together with our newly found friends. There were lots of small pubs and party places on this street. It is the type of party place you can expect to find in most city environments. We usually do not visit the pub-streets on our travels, partly because they draw crowds of people seeking only to get drunk, which can often lead to violence. Naturally, this makes the pub-streets very attractive to pick-pockets and other small-time criminals. Although, the main reason we rarely go to these places is because our ultimate goal is to discover the Wonders of the world, and we have a very tight schedule in each destination. We assure you, dear friend, very few (if any) Wonders started off on a pub-street.
Complete List of “Top 100 Wonders

New Friends, Nightlife & Paul Oakenfold

This particular evening, we were accompanied by our very lovely hosts, so we made an exemption and visited the bar-street of Beijing. It was actually quite ok. We even had a couple of drinks. Back then, dear friend, we still had a taste of alcohol once in awhile, which is something we do not promote, especially if you want to avoid the tourist stomach flu. Around midnight we traveled to a super high-tech dance venue (again, we regret that we made no notes of the name).
International DJ Paul Oakenfold was scheduled to play. There were tons of people as far as the eye could stretch. We were standing on the trampoline floor, flying up, down, sideways, and knocking into people. By the time we left, we were dripping from head to toe, and most of the sweat was not our own ;-). The evening came to an end around 03:00.

Shout-Out to Justin, Jessica, and Annie

We hope that Justin, Jessica, and Annie read these lines and give us a ring. We exchanged e-mail info of course, but those are no longer valid, and at the time social media was not as extensively used. Facebook and Google are today banned from China, so we are also on different social networks. Dilek made a search for them, but no luck. Let us hope that old friends will one day re-surface.
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